Monday, May 23, 2011

Honey and Oil

In keeping with the current Spanish wine theme, mark your calendar for June 3rd 5-7pm when Rene Busque of RMB Imports will be here offering his selections of high end Spanish reds. This is a true opportunity for all of us to expand our wine horizons.

Now to the present and the summer heat wave and what we can do to brace ourselves in it. Two exciting new offerings in the store are the 2009 Dr. Pauly Bergwiler Noble House Riesling and the 2010 Woody Nook Kelly's Farewell Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc. Noble House is a German QBA from the Mosel region; Kelly's Farewell is from the Margaret River region of southwestern Australia.

So what makes the German special? Riesling, obviously. This pairing of grape and place is about as perfect as they come. Riesling in fact originated in the Rhine region of Germany with written documentation dating to the 15th century. While the Rhine may be home to the finest Rieslings, the Mosel can claim the most commercial success now. Mosels tend to be softer and rounder than Rhines, while retaining the high acidity that makes the wine so special. The Riesling flavor profile may include apple, peach, gooseberry, grapefruit, honey, and an aromatic floweriness that may include rose blossom. The noble Riesling is usually unblended and always unoaked and may be dry, semi-dry, sweet or sparkling.

Again place and grape type make the Australian special. The Margaret River region, one of the world's ideal wine production locales, is a ridge of gravelly loam near the Indian Ocean that actually requires no irrigation. As such the wines have intense varietal flavors with this one featuring tropical fruit, melon, honey (flavor not sweetness)and grass with the prerequisite long lingering crisp finish. Semillon, like Riesling, has a long history in its Australian environs. In 1800 it made up 90% of the vineyard plantings on the continent and was oddly enough called Riesling. While its popularity is far lower today, the grape continues to lead with its problem-free, disease resistant high yield.

So why the "Honey and Oil" title? With a little aging both Semillon and sweeter Rieslings become oilier and more honeyed than in their youth. The Semillons accentuate the oiliness along with a low acid, honeyed complexity. The dessert Rieslings improve because of their high acidity with oily, balanced fruit composition. Both wines age remarkably well. A fine Australian Semillon table wine may hold thirty years; a great German Dessert Riesling may last a hundred years. Honey and oil, anyone?


Monday, May 16, 2011

Dow Douro Vale do Bomfim 2008

We don't often pick up a book that is too far removed from our areas of interest, go to a movie that doesn't offer a storyline we connect with, or order a plate of food that seems like it would be eccentric even within its ethnic tradition. We are basically conservative by nature. Here's a thought...what if we were just the opposite and tried everything we initially felt opposed to? Nah...that's too extreme.

So enters Vale Do Bomfim into the discussion. This is a Portuguse red blend from Dow, one of the great Port producers using grapes from Port vineyards to make this dry red dinner wine. Specifically the wine is 55% Tinta Barroca, 22% Tinta Roriz, 17% Old Mixed Vines (!?), 3% Touriga Nacional, and 3% Touriga Franca. I figure the OMV above is the reason for this wine being here. They had to do something with the juice from those darn old mixed vine grapes. But its really not anything we would like to try though...or is it?

Last weekend we tasted out this $12.99 offering to mixed revues. The main criticism was its dryness which actually makes sense since it is european table wine intended to go with red meat. The flavor profile was complex to say the least. Wine reviews I have seen list every berry in the book for Bomfim. I personally like "bramble fruit". The wine is rich and structured, velvety textured, with structured ripe tannins. The nose is gamey and earthy; the finish, respectably long. This is a big rustic chewy red bursting with character enabled by a bright fresh acidity. Most definitely have it with red meat on the grill.

So way back when, I used to have a friend in my circle who would declare, 'Well I liked it!', after everyone else present expressed their disapproval of whatever was the subject of discussion. In the case of Bomfim, "I like it!"


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Rioja Pt. 2, Vina Zaca

The better Spanish Riojas are categorized according to the length of time they are aged before release into the market. A crianza spends one year aging in oak barrels. A reserva is aged one year in oak followed by a year in the bottle. A gran reserva spends two years in oak and three years in the bottle prior to release.
All of these time frames have been shortened from earlier historical standards in the main because the marketplace has changed. The modern palate does not lean toward extended time in oak and most definitely not to the open concrete fermentation tanks that predominated in the early twentieth century. The cruder old world practices often resulted in a product that could be oxidized to an unacceptable extent.

Today about half of the producers in Spain and Rioja particularly are using state of the art modern wineries and have embraced at least some modern winemaking practces. The rub lies in knowing which historical practices to discard and which to keep, being mindful and respectful of the history and culture of europe and knowing the difference between trendiness and truth.

So with that in mind Bodegas Bilbainas (est. 1859) offers us Vina Zaco, a young vine 100% Tempranillo red that deliberately discards the traditional aging process designations in favor of winemaker Diego Pinilla's independent declaration of readiness for market. Have they deserted Spanish tradition with this wine? Hardly. The wine's profile has the dusty earth and black cherry typical of the model but moreover adds nuances of coffee, smoke, chocolate, violets, minerals, and an herbaceousness within its medium body format with zippy acidity and pleasant tannins. Kudos to a textbook effort plus. Let's learn more.

Bodegas Bilbainos is a 250 hectare estate in the Haro Station district, the finest region in the Rioja Alta. The soil is a calcareous clay; the climate is continental. The mountains to the north and the Ebro River basin contribute to this most ideal of terroirs. The wine features 100% estate grown fruit.

Diego Pinilla is the extra factor perhaps as essential to any of the others for the quality in the bottle. He has trained in France and worked on three continents including a stint at Clos du Val in Napa California. His contributions to Vina Zaco include maximizing the freshness and fruitiness of the wine through a cold pre-maceration fermentation. This "cold soak" is a non-alcoholic acqueous extraction process which increases color intensity while softening the astringency of the grapes while extending the capabilities of the phenolics inherent in the grapes.

Vino Zaco has earned a 90pt Wine Spectator rating and the 2006 vintage was a WS Top 100 designee. This Friday we will be tasting the 2007 vintage currently offered here at $13.99/btl. Mention this article and get a 10% discount on the wine and a 20% discount on Entlebucher Schwingerkase Raw Milk Swiss Mountain cheese, an ideal mate for Zaco.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Rioja, the finest wine production region of Spain, lies in a north-central locale on a 1,500 foot plateau sheltered to the north by the Cantabrian Mountains. By reducing the region's strong winds, the Cantabrians moderate the continental climate of the viticultural area. The soil is primarily clay with chalk and iron along with alluvial deposits, volcanic material and limestone. The region receives 12-20 inches of rain annually and benefits from having the primary estuary of the country, the Ebro river, running through it.

The Rioja is subdivided into the Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Baja. The Alta is on the northwestern edge at a higher elevation where the growing season is shorter resulting in wines that are "old world" style. Bottled in bordeaux bottles, these wines tend to be lighter on the palate. The Alavesa region wines are fuller, riper with a higher acidity and are bottled in burgundy bottles. The Baja region to the south has a more mediterranean (warmer/drier) climate and it's production is typically blended into the others.

The earliest documentation of wine production in Rioja dates to 873AD. That reference was monastic in origin and indicated that the culture was ongoing at that time. In 1102 the King of Spain legalized the Rioja wine producing district. In 1650 quality protection documentation was introduced. By the 18th century French winemaking in Bordeaux began to influence the Spanish in Rioja primarily with oak barrel aging. In the 20th century a series of laws were passed all aimed at guaranteeing the quality of wine bearing the Rioja name. DOC (Denominacion de Origen) laws guaranteeing the product origin finally were enacted in 1970 with Rioja being the first recognized DOCa (Denominacion de Origen Calificada)in 1991. The Rioja stamp on wine bottle labels from the region was enacted with the 2008 vintage.

85% of Rioja wine is red with the typical blend being 60% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, and 20% Syrah although other historic minor grape varieties contibute to the blend. The white wine from Rioja is primarily Viura (Macabeo) based with Garnacha Blanco and Malvasia included. Because Spain's wine industry is more commercial than other Europeans, small amounts of Cabernet and Merlot are now allowed in the red blends if their quality is assured.

Cune (Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espania) is one of the region's best traditional producers. Recently we have offered their Rioja Blanco and Monopole whites. These two flavorful wines are bright, fresh, and lemony with good acidity. The unoaked Blanco retails for $13/btl; the Monopole (American oak), $15/btl. The Cune Crianza Red is expected in this week at a $13 retail. Cite this article and try them all for $35. If you want to try just one, make it the Blanco.

Happy Mother's Day